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Confusion Is the First Step Toward Clarity

Today, clever quips, sound byte solutions and silver bullet expectations dominate the fitness discourse. So do confusing, often self-contradictory running form tips, techniques and testimonials. An alphabet soup of running advice is served up daily by coaches and athletes, health professionals and hucksters. Most, like the commercial varieties, offer little clarity and less sustenance. But that running form has become at all food for thought is a good thing.

Now, when people ask “What’s Pose Method running?” I know they anticipate some snap, crackle, pop answer. Nothing substantial, helpful nor healthful, really, just something that’s easy to ingest, digest and pass.

While any twenty-five-words-or-less explanation risks reducing potent grains of insight into pablum or processing them into poison I think, within context, this sums it up:

Pose Method distills running into its essential elements (Pose, Fall, Pull) which best coordinate natural forces, so we can run– farther, faster, and free from injury.

What It’s Not

Pose Method isn’t the latest thing, the shiniest thing, nor any pop-culture physical patois. It isn’t esoteric advice from some grizzled guru, and it isn’t another pet endorsement of a Hollywood celebrity. Most of all, Pose Method isn’t a new and improved running style.

What It Is

Pose Method is a system of movement that identifies gravity as the prime motive force human beings use to run, cycle, swim, etc., and recognizes muscles’ efforts a subordinate force. That is, instead of creating movement themselves, muscles only redirect the motion that already exists, which is the vertical pull of gravity. This may intuitively ring true to you, or not. Either way, conventional wisdom sure appears blind to its implications.

As Pose Method founder, Dr. Nicholas Romanov puts it…

Gravity is still very much the elephant in the room and it is treated as something that “applies to this, but not to that”, “it is here, but not over there”. Fact is, gravity is a silent dictator that rules this world.

All human movement is gravity-dependent. Whether you’re running, swimming, walking to your car or reaching for milk in your refrigerator– you’re moving under the influence of gravity. … But it doesn’t just pull us down.

Pose Method Running

Pose Method teaches running as a skill sport, with its own technical particulars, like golf, martial arts and ballet. The running Pose is the key position– a standard. How a runner gets into and out of it distinguishes deviations from, or adherence to good form. Specific exercises develop the sensory awareness and frame of movement that allow a runner to discern “correct” from “incorrect,” and adjust as needed.

Romanov says…

A “standard” is an… accepted model of something… used as a basis for judgment…

When there is a clearly identified and put forth model… any deviation from that… is easily seen. That [deviation is] the definition of an “error”.

[W]hen it comes to human movement in sports, when it comes to running… [a standard provides a] precise model to learn, to teach, [and an] ability to correct errors.

He specifies…

The laws of operation of all natural forces with gravity at the helm consequently lead to a particular set of rules in movement of a human body.

Unless we figure out how to defy gravity or it suddenly changes the way it works, we will abide by its current standard of operation…

Novel, But Not New

Others of note have described precisely how the vertical force of gravity is translated into horizontal movement.

From antiquity, Romanov references…

Leonardo da Vinci [as] the first to recognize gravity as a propulsive force, [quoting him:] “Motion is created by the destruction of balance, that is, of equality of weight for nothing can move by itself which does not leave its state of balance and that thing moves most rapidly which is furthest from its balance.”

Then, from a hundred years ago…

[Neuro-scientist] Thomas Graham-Brown [who] expanded on da Vinci’s thoughts, [wrote], “It seems to me that the act of progression itself– whether it be flight through the air or by such movements as running over the surface of the ground– consists essentially in a movement in which the centre of gravity of the body is allowed to fall forwards and downwards under the action of gravity, and in which the momentum thus gained is used in driving the centre of gravity again upwards and forwards; so that, from one point in the cycle to the corresponding point in the next, no work is done (theoretically), but the mass of the individual is, in effect, moved horizontally through the environment.”

I might add that in 1952 physician Dudley Morton reiterated specifically…

Under the effects of an unbalanced body center, the combined action of these constant factors, gravity and structure, produces a mechanically determined rate of forward motion which is almost independent of muscular exertion.

Even so, the birth of a universally applicable running form, along with a unified theory of general movement would have to wait for Nicholas Romanov to connect the dots of scientific research and practical action.

Necessity Is a Mutha

Dr. Nicholas Romanov founded Pose Method in the late 1970s. As a university professor of physical culture and sports he was immersed in teaching track and field events to his students. But, unlike other sports, when it came to running, technique was more a matter of mojo than method. Incredibly, there seemed to be no commonly accepted platform from which to coach. Over time, by sifting through the strides of thousands of runners and distilling their common elements, the clouds confusing the issue would clear and he’d see the one, single, correct running form.

In going forward, bear in mind the perspective of aviator and author, Antoine de Saint-Exupery…

A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

…because it’s so beautifully expressed in Pose Method running. Better still, begin experiencing it yourself by doing the perception drills below. Just remember, less is more.

Anatomy of a Stride

Variables & Invariables

What Romanov found was that invariably, all runners Pose, Fall and Pull. Not every runner, though, heel strikes nor tries to paw at or push off the ground. These other pieces of the running puzzle, then, are affectations, embellishments, superfluities. All variables. Romanov’s Method includes particular drills that train runners to eliminate the variables and reinforce the invariables. At the same time, his conceptual model of running dismantles the prevailing paradigm that running is generated by muscular effort.


Running Pose as seen in stride to stride sequence.

Running Pose as seen in stride to stride sequence.

Conventional Wisdom

A common belief is that because we’re all seemingly so different, running form and running success are individual affairs. Runners should celebrate the freedom of their own unique style, however convoluted it may be. Therefore, for better or worse, running fast and far boils down to genetic gifts and dutifully training muscles’ strength / stamina. Injury– incredibly, pervasive among runners– is normally attributed to biomechanical deficiencies, over training and inappropriate footwear. It’s expected, inevitable and immutable. And, the role of gravity, despite its universal presence and overwhelming power, is roundly ignored or dismissed.

On the Flip Side

Pose Method operates under irrefutable facts. Because we human beings are more alike than we are different, and because Nature’s laws work the same for us all, the prospect that there could be a naturally right way of running ought to be self-evident. What’s more, one correct running form is liberating even as it might sound limiting.

Yes, some runners perform better than others, but human hearts and lungs all work the same way. It’s true for eyes and ears, too. Isn’t it nonsensical to think that our functionally identical musculo-skeletal systems would behave differently from runner to runner under the same laws of physics and in response to the same mechanical demands? You see, in shaping our bodies and prescribing our movements Nature has already done the math and engineering so that with nary a thought we precisely express her most complex equations of locomotion just by running. Running right, anyway. But we’ve also grown big brains which let us think we might outsmart, defy and deny the forces that have created us. Nature, it seems, is not without a sense of humor.

Myth Bustin’

There could hardly be a more definitively human activity than running. Yet, it’s rarely questioned how something so natural could prove so inherently injurious as to require radical external intervention, such as those orthotic devices known as running shoes? And, we do need support, cushioning and motion control to run, don’t we?

Researcher Adam Daoud investigates…

There is evidence that evolutionary pressure selected for endurance running ability around 2 million years before the development of the modern running shoe in the 1970s (Bramble & Lieberman, 2004). It is therefore reasonable to hypothesize that natural, habitually barefoot (BF) running is adaptive in ways that habitually shod running is not. If natural selection acted on running, then one would predict BF running to be both efficient and safe.

Then how might running become unsafe?

Daoud goes on…

…modern distance runners use a maladaptive [landing] pattern, specifically heel strike running, which is promoted by running in modern, viscoelastic cushioned running shoes.

You see, because insulating shoes so dampen our sensory acuity it’s nearly impossible to interact with reasonable certainty, or sure-footedness within our physical world. Not until, anyway, we can dispense with the arbitrary, shoe-sales-based notion of some seven billion unique stride signatures, and instead reorient our mindset and movements within the absolute, unifying framework of gravity.

It Starts with Perception

In running, once we break the balance of the Pose position we begin translating the vertical pull of gravity into horizontal motion by utilizing ground reaction, musculo-skeletal interaction and intent. An accurate perception of ourselves within and as part of our three-dimensional world allows us to best refine our movements, consciously or otherwise. But popular training, treatment and tangible goods touted to improve our running experience usually interfere. The modern zeitgeist of “more” continues to distance our senses from our activities. Far too many runners notice little more than their injuries. Some can’t even tell whether or not they heel strike! Happily though, as Gestalt therapist Fritz Perls would say, “awareness is curative.”

And, as Romanov says…

Our progress will only be as good as our ability to differentiate one movement from another, one effort from another…. taking in and processing all the signals, all the information about our body position in space, the timing of our movements and the level of efforts exerted…

He continues…

Gregory Bateson, a great American scientist, wrote that learning and “science [are] way[s] of perceiving… But perception operates only upon difference… and all perception of difference is limited by threshold. Differences that are too slight or too slowly presented are not perceivable.”

For instance, with one or two centimeters of foam underfoot diluting or fully depriving us of instructive stimulation, how could we possibly feel what’s naturally correct or incorrect? Short of having a conceptual model and a standard of running in mind, how else would we effectively frame, evaluate and adjust our actions? Successful running always remains a “less is more” proposition. Here, less distraction affords more awareness.

Cushioned Running Shoe

Cushioned Running Shoe

This Leads to Running

Pose

Start from the Pose position where we’re balanced on (the ball of) one foot while the other is pulled up under your hips. Picture this as arranging the lower body in a closed-top, figure-four position (4), with the upper body resting vertically above.

This “Pose” is that singular point in space and time that separates the previous stride from the next. It is where the centers of gravity of the body and swing leg are in line with support, the ball of the foot. Ideally, this occurs at mid stance. But, whether at mid stance or slightly beyond, the next component of continuing running– the Fall– cannot happen until the the Pose is reached. This isn’t my opinion, nor is it Romanov’s creation, rather it’s the laws of physics that make it so. Nature sets the standard.

So from here, in this Pose position, we stand on the precipice, ready to give ourselves to gravity and fall forward at 9.8m/s2 into the next stride, and the next…

Pose Position | Figure 4

Pose Position | Figure 4

* Experience it yourself: Get the feeling for the running Pose. Maybe do a few single leg quarter squats. Bounce up and down a bit. Do all this barefooted and feel support. Lean forward and back, exploring balance and imbalance. Notice where support begins to disappear.

It’s important to know that only by initially touching down on the ball of the foot are we able to access all the available leverage and elastic properties as we gently load our biomechanical spring system at mid stance. The first force plate graph is revealing. The running Pose occurs at the peak of the curve.

Force Plate 1 | Gentle Forefoot Touchdown

Force Plate | Gentle Forefoot Touchdown

In contrast, by crashing down on the heel or a so-called mid foot we forfeit the soft and safe loading of our natural spring and impose an oblique impact to a system ill designed to receive it. (Jump rope on your heels and flat footed to drive this point home.) But, in running we don’t feel it so much because even the thinest of soled shoes can attenuate enough local pain to allow the error to persist. Still, the harsh impact of 2 to 3 times bodyweight evidenced by the second force plate graph is being hammered into the body, stride after stride. With heel striking typical of most runners, is it any wonder that injury is so prevalent?

Force Plate | Harsh Heel Strike

Force Plate 2 | Harsh Heel Strike

Fall

So, immediately following mid stance our compressed biomechanical spring is quickly uncoiling and pushing us up slightly as we are now falling forward like a felled tree through a speed-appropriate range. Instead of pawing or pushing, our muscles simply hold our Pose position as we rotate from the ball of our foot which takes our center of mass along a horizontal plane, from point A to point B. Happily, rather than hitting the ground like the tree, we just change support and fall again, and again.

* Experience it yourself: Run in place. Notice how you’re interacting with the ground. Find to the differences between naturally running in place, landing flatfooted, and landing on the heel. Which feels right? Are you pushing into the ground, or are you pulling each foot from the ground. Now, keep running in place and let yourself fall forward…

End of Fall

End of Fall

* Also: From the running Pose stand maybe twelve inches from a wall. Now, let your whole body fall forward as a single unit, toward the wall, while holding your Pose position. Make sure to pivot on the ball of the foot instead of leaning from the ankle. (Please catch yourself with your hands before bumping your nose, okay?) Push yourself back to the vertical and repeat several times. Then, step back six inches and Fall again. Finally, step back another six inches and Fall once more. Switch support legs and repeat.

Notice how different it feels to Fall from twelve inches, eighteen inches, and twenty-four inches away from the wall. This is an easy way to begin understanding gravitational acceleration, and the difference between a narrow and wider range of Fall.

* And, now: Put your back against a wall and your feet a few inches from the wall and try running by using your powerful leg and hip muscles. Go ahead, try harder.

Bottom line, no one runs until they Fall. Again, Nature sets the standard.

Range of Fall Determines Pace

Romanov says…

In the Pose Method, the concept of gravity plays a prime role to make us run fast. It works just through different angles of deviation of the general center of mass from the point of support. If we want to run faster, the first thing we have to do is to [fall] forward more in each step. … At this point we are talking about high perception of the athlete allowing him to recognize all these nuances of the body [falling] forward… and its timing happening in a fraction of a second.

Our usable range of Fall, by the way, is narrow. From 0° to 22.5° from the vertical. Imagine falling from 12:00 to 12:04 on a clock face as the full extent of horizontal displacement. What’s more, most runners will access only a fraction of this available Fall. Slower runners necessarily Fall through an attenuated range, whether they are holding themselves back, or because they inadvertently arrive late to the running Pose. Dispense with the description “Speed = Stride Rate x Stride Length” and know now that it’s range of Fall and a complimentary cadence– a more specific rate of foot turnover– that are the real arbiters of pace.

Range of Fall | 12-Oh-4

Range of Fall | 12-Oh-4

Usain Bolt is a good example of a runner giving himself to gravity, as he Falls here from the vertical to more than 20°. See how he’s maintaining the Pose position? His knee is still bent, and his ankle is neutral as he hinges over the ball of his foot. Here, he’s accelerated and ready to release the ground.

Usain Bolt | Falling

Romanov explains 22.5°…

The forward displacement of the runner’s body is determined by the geometry of the falling body on support. The horizontal movement (acceleration) of the body is a function of the angle of deviation of the body from its vertical position that is a function of the vector of gravity and ground reaction force.

Of most interest was the dynamics of correlation between the horizontal and vertical components of [the] resultant vector between gravity and ground reaction, for every angle of deviation. The maximal prevalence of the horizontal component occurs at 22.5° angle, after which the vertical component starts dominating.

Pull

At the end of the Fall, when vertical ground force has dropped below one bodyweight, all that’s left to do is to get the support foot off the ground and recover the running Pose. This is the one volitional muscle action in running– simply, bending the knee– and its timing is everything.

Whether it’s just forgotten and left behind, or whether by trying to push off or paw back, a tardy trailing leg tends to precipitate an active landing, that is, having to throw a foot out in front of the body to prolong time on support so that that sluggish leg can catch up. What’s more, exaggerated leg-muscles tension interferes with letting go and freely falling with gravity around the support foot.

In any event, when precise timing is degraded, through dulled senses or because neural fatigue has set in– despite even extreme aerobic and muscular fitness– concomitant increases in impact, time on support, and biomechanical irregularities begin conspiring to undermine endurance. Endurance, then, can best be described as how well we’re able to maintain good technique, rather than by long we’re willing to continue slogging out the miles. Skill must last.

Pull Sequence

Pull Sequence

Like a musician practicing scales and arpeggios, or a martial artist rehearsing katas, a skill set is taught, learned and mastered so that technical fluency can flow, just so. Freely. Mindlessly. Indefinitely. Fortunately, instead of a multitude of notes or postures, running requires only that we become proficient at one thing– releasing the ground on time. That is, we Pull!

Romanov describes…

In order to do this an athlete has to have quite a high level of skill, which includes pulling the foot from the ground coinciding with falling in space and time, and muscle efforts enough to make this pull, but not more than this in order to avoid muscular tension.

* Experience it yourself: Balance in the running Pose, then change support, meaning Pull your support off the ground, and let the other foot find the ground on its own. Easy? Maybe not.

The tendency to reach for the ground before actually lifting the support foot indicates a greater concern with regaining support rather than removing it. See this by recording a couple of your stationary Pulls on video. Step through each, frame by frame, and notice where your feet pass each other. Is it about knee level, or closer to ankle level?

You’ll probably need to unweight yourself to leave support, and that’s okay– a brisk shoulder shrug is enough. Make sure to Pull before you begin letting the other foot down. Snap crisply into the running Pose with each Pull. Practice on each leg. Then, explore the Pull as you Fall toward a wall (as before).

Hardwired, But Short Circuited

Where we adults have to work at it, most young kids do all this naturally. And why wouldn’t they? Their primal grace, their inherent physical fluencies, still intact, engender action aligned with intent. Ah, the purity of movement.

Kid Running Pose

Kid, Running Pose

But, since childhood, most of us have been unwittingly rewiring ourselves to forget the sensations and coordinations that permit us to run fluidly and easily. Why? Again, wearing shoes disconnects us from any tactile appreciation of terrain, balance and motion. Also, by thinking of running in terms of muscles’ efforts we errantly reverse the current between brain action and bodily effect. That is, by our typical disregard for the primacy of gravity in creating human structure and locomotion we impede our conscious reacquaintance with natural motion. This, all bad.

And Now?

The good news is, by looking at the schematic of running as simply a linking together of one pose to the next we are able to again switch-on our psycho-physiology and run safely and effectively. Pose, Fall, Pull– nothing more, nothing less.

It could be that your desired fitness menu includes some combination of running farther, running faster, and running free of injury. If so, by learning to land in the running Pose you can avoid the injurious impact transient that is created by active heel strike and mid foot landings. By utilizing greater ranges of fall, you can capitalize on the same gravitational acceleration that the very fastest runners are using. And, rather than arbitrarily exercising muscles, by specifically training to consistently pull the support foot from the ground on time you will develop the metabolic and neural endurance– and confidence– that can extend your running skill even out to ultra distances. Finally, by re-learning how to work with instead of against physical laws you can now start running “naturally.”

Thus, we come full circle. Pose Method distills running into its essential elements (Pose, Fall, Pull) which best coordinate natural forces, so we can run– farther, faster, and free from injury.

***

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